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Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), also referred to as psychoendoneuroimmunology (PENI) or psychoneuroendocrinoimmunology (PNEI), is the study of the interaction between psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems of the human body. PNI takes an interdisciplinary approach, incorporating psychology, neuroscience, immunology, physiology, genetics, pharmacology, molecular biology, psychiatry, behavioral medicine, infectious diseases, endocrinology, and rheumatology.
The main interests of PNI are the interactions between the nervous and immune systems and the relationships between mental processes and health. PNI studies, among other things, the physiological functioning of the neuroimmune system in health and disease; disorders of the neuroimmune system (autoimmune diseases; hypersensitivities; immune deficiency); and the physical, chemical and physiological characteristics of the components of the neuroimmune system in vitro, in situ, and in vivo.
Interest in the relationship between psychiatric syndromes or symptoms and immune function has been a consistent theme since the beginning of modern medicine.
Claude Bernard, a French physiologist of the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, formulated the concept of the milieu interieur in the mid-1800s. In 1865, Bernard described the perturbation of this internal state: "... there are protective functions of organic elements holding living materials in reserve and maintaining without interruption humidity, heat and other conditions indispensable to vital activity. Sickness and death are only a dislocation or perturbation of that mechanism" (Bernard, 1865). Walter Cannon, a professor of physiology at Harvard University coined the commonly used term, homeostasis, in his book The Wisdom of the Body, 1932, from the Greek word homoios, meaning similar, and stasis, meaning position. In his work with animals, Cannon observed that any change of emotional state in the beast, such as anxiety, distress, or rage, was accompanied by total cessation of movements of the stomach (Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear and Rage, 1915). These studies looked into the relationship between the effects of emotions and perceptions on the autonomic nervous system, namely the sympathetic and parasympathetic responses that initiated the recognition of the freeze, fight or flight response. His findings were published from time to time in professional journals, then summed up in book form in The Mechanical Factors of Digestion, published in 1911.
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